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Make Thinking Visible for Better Results

by Parvathi “Parv” Santhosh-Kumar on February 17, 2017

What would it take to achieve better and more equitable results for every child, cradle to career?

That overarching question is what guides all of our work at StriveTogether. Trying to improve educational outcomes at scale is an aim without end. Unlike learning how to bake a cake or how to build a rocket ship, figuring out how to shape and strengthen complex and adaptive systems across local communities is an unanswerable question. Communities are living ecosystems that require us to embrace emergence.


As individuals, we are generally pretty good at learning. Collaborative work requires a different level of intentionality to make the leap from insight and reflection to action and results. To strengthen the “S” in PDSAs (Plan-Do-Study Act cycles) and to create more purposeful reflexive loops from learning to action, the Emergent Learning Platform can be a helpful suite of tools and a way of thinking and working together that keeps results at the center.

Emergent Learning was created to focus on this big question:

“What would it take for groups of people working on important but challenging goals to learn as quickly and well together as we are each able to learn individually, so that they not only achieve their current goals more quickly, but also get better at achieving other important but challenging goals in the future?”

This is extremely relevant for community leaders and partners working in cradle-to-career partnerships to eliminate educational disparities. By unpacking what people know through a shared process, it’s possible to build people’s collective capacity to produce better results. The focus is on making thinking visible in a way that equalizes and values each individual experiences in service of shared results — bringing everyone’s best ideas to the table.

One of the easiest ways to get started is to use Before Action Reviews and After Action Reviews, a practice that helps groups learn in real-time from real work:

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At StriveTogether, we’ve implemented these quick 30-minute prep and debrief conversations for everything from convenings and workshops to new initiatives. In doing so, we are more purposeful about what it takes to achieve our shared results.

In the context of local cradle-to-career partnerships, one of the most valuable Emergent Learning principles is the focus on testing ideas on the ground using real-time data. Instead of setting strategy in stone, the approach welcomes holding multiple hypotheses about what it might take to achieve the results you seek. As cradle-to-career partnerships work to improve outcomes and eliminate disparities, it is critical to concurrently test and work on multiple interconnected strategies. Alignment is the conscious commitment of many to a shared result — not everyone necessarily doing the same thing!

Marilyn Darling, the founder of the approach, shared one of her working hypotheses guiding this work: emergence rather than replicability likely leads to greater sustainability and scale. This is the sweet spot for cradle-to-career partnerships — helping cross-sector groups accelerate results by navigating ever-evolving conditions by testing and refining hypotheses and learning and taking action together.

As part of my personal and professional development toward being an advanced results-based leadership practitioner, I am a participant in the 2017 cohort of the Fourth Quadrant Partners’ Emergent Learning Certification Program. 

Parvathi “Parv” Santhosh-Kumar About Parvathi “Parv” Santhosh-Kumar
Parvathi “Parv” Santhosh-Kumar is the Director, Network Learning for StriveTogether. She manages strategies to support StriveTogether staff and Cradle to Career Network members in identifying, sharing, and applying actionable and relevant knowledge to accelerate progress to Proof Point and influence the broader field. Parv previously led the launch and early implementation of the Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund.

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